Thursday, 24 February 2011

Hartford-Davis, You Bastard

After the moderate success of ‘Black Gunn’, Brit director in (self-imposed) exile Robert Hartford-Davis blaxploited for a second time with ‘The Take’ (1974), his last ever feature film.

Based on a novel about corruption in the London Metropolitan Police Force (the subtly titled ‘Sir, You Bastard’ by G.F Newman), Hartford-Davis transposes the action from the UK to the US, and the sleazy cockney copper lead into the smooth personage of Mr. Billy Dee Williams.

Billy Dee plays Terry Snead, a dirty cop who is transferred from San Francisco down to Mexico to help the local force fight organised crime. This doesn’t make any sense, of course, especially as he’s taking bribes from the mob before he’s even unpacked and swapping tips with his new, equally bent captain on how best to store their ill gotten gains.

Lord knows why the Mob pay him, though, as it doesn’t appear to have any benefits whatsoever. When he’s not shooting knife throwing gangsters he’s setting up sting operations or dragging in mob associates and torturing them for information. Inexplicably, though, the kickbacks keep coming. His Police colleagues know he’s on ‘the take’ but don’t seem to care either. When their one feeble attempt at incriminating him fails they seem to lose heart and let him do whatever he likes from then on. At the end, he gets promoted.

Snead is basically a massive arsehole, and although some attempt is made to tell us why (he was once a good cop but, after being unjustly accused of corruption, deliberately turned bad and stayed that way) and to show us his pain (he occasionally phones his ex who refuses to take his calls) he doesn’t elicit any sympathy from the audience, only disbelief that the two timing twister doesn’t up in a ditch with a bullet through his bouffant. His nadir as a human being is perhaps when he forces a fat man to take off his kaftan and do star jumps wearing just his pants as part of an interrogation / ritual humiliation before planting some drugs on him. He also makes Frankie Avalon cry, so he's not all bad.

With a better script, ‘The Take’ could have been an intricate, cynical tale, and nead a master manipulator, a man who can be under arrest one day and made a Captain the next, but it just doesn't happen. The direction too is lacklustre, and limited by obvious budget restrictions. Apart from the odd shot, Hartford-Davis doesn’t direct so much as simply film, and the finished product lacks tension and energy as a result.

Unabashed, Hartford-Davis took his quick and cheap methodology to the small screen, and was working on the cop show ‘Cat & Dog’ when he keeled over from a massive heart attack and died. He was 53 years old.

And with that, we’re nearly at the end of our year long Hartford-Davis odyssey. It’s been an interesting, occasionally mind numbing journey, but it’s not quite over: we haven’t done ‘Gonks Go Beat!’ yet...

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Things that keep me awake at night

The milk float that drives up my street at 4am, then reverses back down it at 4.15. The driver looks like Jimmy Cricket.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Gentlemen Broncos

‘Gentlemen Broncos’ is the third feature film from the ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ co-writer and director Jared Hess.

It concerns Benjamin, a dirt poor lonely boy from a very small town in Utah. Benjamin dreams of being a sci fi / fantasy writer but, when his ideas are stolen by his literary idol, Dr. Ronald Chevalier, he falls into despair.

A low-key mix of dry deadpan comedy and the plain silly, ‘Gentlemen Broncos’ was denied a general release because of poor test audience reactions, but has had a second life on DVD and satellite TV. I won’t make any claims for it as a flawless masterpiece, but it’s one of the most enjoyable new films I’ve seen in recent years: a charming, ridiculous, cheap, nerdy pleasure.

In a brilliant touch, scenes from Benjamin’s book (‘Yeast Lords: The Bronco Years’) are presented twice, sometimes three times: as Benjamin sees them, as the fraudulent Dr. Chevalier has revised them, and through the no budget camera of the appalling Lonnie Donaho, a local ‘auteur’ who has purchased the rights to the story with a postdated cheque. Not only does this allow some fantasy counterpoint to a story that largely takes place in the mundane spaces of the rural American west, but it also lets the director parody sci fi films and low budget movies in general, including the awful melodrama that Benjamin is induced to appear in, playing a sensual stable hand.

Michael Angarona plays Benjamin with an air of desperate resignation, his hangdog face and dying puppy eyes permanently prepared for the next kick in the teeth. Sam Rockwell gives a broad but highly enjoyable performance as Benjamin’s fictional mono-orchid hero, Bronco, carrying off both wild beard and, in Chevalier’s version, white disco mullet and porn star moustache. Perhaps the best performance comes from ‘Flight Of The Conchords’ Jermaine Clement as the distinguished (but increasingly desperate) sci fi guru, Chevalier. The bad doctor, with his nasal voice, literary pretensions and Native American jewelry is a perfect comic creation, a pompous, ridiculous character, a King of the Dorks who will do anything to avoid losing his crown.

Here’s the trailer.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Friday, 4 February 2011


Questions arising from this early 80's wrestling clip:

1. how big is Giant Haystacks?
2. how old is Rasputin, and
3. how was anyone ever fooled into thinking that this was real?


1. 6 feet 11 and 45 stone
2. 74, and
3. God only knows, but they were, they were.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Shit, Man

‘Black Gunn’ was reprobate director Robert Hartford-Davis’ first American film (he'd quit the UK after the ‘Nobody Ordered Love’ debacle, remember?), and it’s an undemanding and uninspiring slice of blaxploitation (I had to watch it twice for the purpose of this review, as I couldn’t remember anything from the first viewing).

Heavyset former American Football star Jim Brown plays Gunn, one of those ridiculous wish fulfilment characters that crop up in action film scripts like this: he’s rich and well-connected, a pillar of the community; he has a nightclub in the basement of his mansion; he drives women wild, and he’s deadly when crossed.

The only problem Gunn has in his ridiculously perfect world is his younger brother, Scotty, a Black Panther who is obsessed with sticking it to The Man. When Scotty and his angry beret wearing pals rob a mob fronted business things go heavy at the bottom and tapered at the top: Scotty winds up dead and dumped on his brother’s lawn, so Gunn loads up his shotgun, flexes his big fists and gets ready to kick some Mafioso arse.

Brown is his usual quiet, capable self, but the best characters are in support, like supercool Bernie Casey (no man ever wore an afro like Bernie), Oscar winning Martin Landau (as a bad ass mob boss) and the deeply creepy Bruce Glover (Crispin’s Dad) as an incredibly repellent and racist hit man. The whole undertaking is rather low key and by the numbers, but then presumably Hartford-Davis was trying to prove himself professionally so reined in his natural impulse for sleaze and shock. The action sequences are okay, but marred by obvious stand ins. The climactic confrontation between Gunn & the hit man is a real disappointment, firstly because he doesn’t kill the creepy bastard and secondly because the two men fighting are quite clearly not Jim Brown and Bruce Glover.

In the end analysis, ‘Black Gunn’ is competent, professional and, by Hartford-Davis standards, relatively tasteful and restrained. Oh, Robert, Bob, Bobby, what went wrong?

Here’s the wonkily synched clip in which Gunn’s brother meets his end. It’s notable for this eloquent, moving exchange between the brothers as they say their final farewell.

Sonny: ‘I can't believe this shit. Oh Man, this shit has taken me out, man’.

Gunn: ‘Shit’.

It's rather beautiful.